USW Psychologist puts veterans in winning frame of mind

Professor David Shearer
 (right in picture) is the performance psychologist for 65 Degrees North, an organisation that seeks to help in the rehabilitation of wounded or damaged ex-servicemen and women by offering the opportunity to participate in challenging adventures.

As the performance psychologist, his role is to help prepare the teams for the challenges they are likely to face during the adventures, and debrief and support the expeditioners on their return to help maximise the learning experience.

At the time of writing, the team are completing a summit attempt on Denali (North America), and preparing for the Munda Bidi cycle trail in Australia. In 2019 they will make an attempt to summit Mount Everest.

Previous expeditions have ranged in challenge and danger and include completing the first unsupported crossing of the Greenland Icecap by an amputee; taking five injured ex Royal Marines up Mount Kilimanjaro and 10 wounded, injured and sick ex-servicemen on a sailing adventure around the coast of England.

David, tell us about your background
I have been a performance psychologist in elite sport for the last 15 years. I have extensive experience of helping athletes, coaches and teams achieve their best performances, and have helped countless athletes transition from a life of elite sport to ‘civvy street’. Many (certainly not all) of the challenges faced by the participants of 65DN are similar to those of elite athletes. The more complex issues of PTSD are dealt with via clinical psychology support.

What is your role in 65 Degrees North?
Before expeditions we mostly focus on individual issues surrounding confidence, performance anxiety, maximising team work and communication. Post expedition, we focus on helping athletes through ‘post-expedition blues’ and using their adventure as a springboard to success in other domains or towards other physical challenges.

Why did you want to become involved?
At various points in my late teens and early twenties, I considered joining the Royal Marines (I even posted the application form once). But for a few coincidental phone calls, I could have found myself in a similar situation to the participants of 65DN. In hindsight, I think it was the physical challenge that attracted me, and if I was under fire I would probably have run in the other direction.

What have been the highlights so far?
During the Raid 17 challenge, a mixed bag of ex-soldiers fought their way up the steepest hills and cols in the Pyrenees. Missing limbs, serious mental illness and hand-bikes did not stop any of them achieving their goals. It was truly humbling being there at the top of every hill (with my cup of coffee!) as they summited and seeing them roll to the finish line as a band of 17 brothers and sisters.

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